10 · Harpsichord

Full Description

French, 17th century
By Michel Richard, Paris, 1688

Compass: four and one-half octaves: GG to c’’’, with split EE-flat
Length 224.0 cm; width 82.6 cm; depth of case 25.4 cm; octave span 15.6 cm
Two manuals and three choirs of strings, two at 8’ pitch, one at 4’ pitch
String scale: c’’ = 37.0 cm

The underside of the soundboard is inscribed: “Faict par Michel Richard 1688”. The case and lid of softwood are painted black inside and out and are decorated with chinoiserie in gold, silver and copper tones. The lid is bordered with a carved gilt moulding. The case is supported by a handsome gilt stand in Louis XIV style. The natural keys are covered with ebony with arcaded wood fronts, and the sharps are covered with ivory.

The earliest surviving French harpsichords seem to exemplify a hybrid style of construction that incorporates traits of both the Italian and Northern traditions.  By the late 17th century, however, the Flemish influence had prevailed. The French imported and enlarged many Flemish harpsichords, and their native makers closely imitated the Flemish instruments in their own products. The soundboard of this harpsichord by Richard has a spurious “H-R” (Hans Ruckers) rose and an inscription stating that the instrument was made by Hans Ruckers in 1613.

Although the case and decoration of this elegant harpsichord have been well preserved, several attempts at restoration have severely compromised its integrity as a musical instrument. Original ribs under the soundboard have been replaced, and a plywood bottom has been furnished in place of the original bottom made up of solid wood planks. This harpsichord stands today as a testament to the dangers posed by well-intentioned enthusiasm for “making it play.” Unfortunately this story has been repeated all too often in museums over many decades. The lesson to be learned is how crucial it is to preserve above all and to attempt restoration work only when it is based on comprehensive knowledge and can be reversed.

The Albert Steinert Collection                                    
Accession No. 4886.1972